China's defense budget growth justified as restrained amid foreign media hype
Foreign media attempt to vilify military funding increase: analysts
Published: Mar 06, 2022 08:10 PM Updated: Mar 06, 2022 10:47 PM
China's defense budget Graphic: Deng Zijun/GT

China's defense budget Graphic: Deng Zijun/GT

China's 7.1 percent increase to its defense budget in 2022 is a restrained move that aims to safeguard the country's national sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and development interests, as well as to provide public security goods to the world, experts said on Sunday, in response to Western media's one-sided interpretation that hypes the military spending plan being the fastest increase since 2019 and outpaces the country's GDP growth target.

The figure, which would see the Chinese military receiving a total of 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) funding in 2022, was revealed on Saturday in a draft budget report released at the opening of the fifth session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature.

Despite admitting that China has kept its defense budget increase to single-digit for seven consecutive years, foreign media reports, like those by Reuters and Bloomberg,  hyped the increase at being the fastest pace since the 7.5 percent proposed for 2019, and comes in above the targeted slower economic growth of around 5.5 percent.

By focusing only on the figures without giving more context, the Western media is merely attempting to vilify China's military spending increase and hype the "China military threat" theory, said experts reached by the Global Times on Sunday.

When looking back at China's previous defense budgets, the growth rates since 2016 have always been more than 7 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022's 7.1 percent is still lower than the average figure between 2016 and 2022, which is more than 7.2 percent, analysts said. 

A major reason why the growth rates dropped below 7 percent in 2020 and 2021 was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy, analysts said, noting that a military spending increase of around 7 percent is normal and steady, and although 7.1 percent is the highest in the past three years, it is nothing to be surprised about.

When it comes to the defense budget's relation to GDP, observers pointed out that China's GDP saw a whopping 8.1 percent growth in 2021, reaching 114.37 trillion yuan. If China reaches its GDP growth target of 5.5 percent this year, the GDP would be about 120.66 trillion yuan in 2022. With China planning to spend 1.45 trillion yuan on national defense, the defense budget would only take 1.2 percent of its total GDP, and this figure is even lower than the 1.3 percent projected over the past few years. 

By comparison, the world average for military expenditure/GDP ratio in 2020 is nearly 2.4 percent, twice as high as China, according to data of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

This figure for the US, which spends almost four times as much as China, is 3.7 percent, according to the SIPRI. US President Joe Biden is expected to ask the US Congress for a defense budget exceeding $770 billion for the next fiscal year, Reuters reported on February 17.

So, China's defense budget increase in 2022 is not high at all, and should be considered very restrained, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times.

Those who question China's defense budget hike should first question that of the US, Fu said. 

Judging from the low military expenditure/GDP ratio of China, the country is still focusing on economic development and livelihoods, Fu said, noting that to have a stable economic development, China needs to have a stable security environment, and that is why a strong national defense is needed.

Back when China's reform and opening-up first started in the late 1970s, China prioritized economic development over military development, and even when the country's economy really took off, its defense budget growth stalled, a retired officer who served in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during that time told the Global Times on Sunday, requesting anonymity.

Today's military development is making up for what was lost, and it is vital to have a military strength that matches China comprehensive development status in order to safeguard the country's fruits of development, the veteran said.

In fact, China still has room to increase its defense budget, but China is not seeking an arms race even when countries like the US, Japan and Australia are greatly hiking their military spending, as China's aim is to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, unlike some other countries' agendas, said Chinese military expert and TV commentator Song Zhongping.

Proper and reasonable 

In 2021, China made major strides in strengthening national defense and the armed forces, getting off to a good start in this endeavor in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), and in 2022, China will work toward the goals for the centenary of the PLA in 2027, enhance military training and combat readiness, stay firm and flexible in carrying out military struggle, and safeguard China's sovereignty, security and development interests, according to the Government Work Report delivered at the opening of the annual session of the NPC on Saturday.

China will move faster to modernize the military's logistics and asset management systems, build a modern weaponry and equipment management system, continue to reform national defense and the military, step up innovations in defense science and technology, implement the strategy of strengthening the military by training competent personnel in the new era, run the military in accordance with the law and strict discipline, promote high-quality development of the military, and improve the layout of defense science, technology and industry, the Government Work Report said.

Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times that the increase in China's military budget is appropriate and reasonable given that China is aiming to develop a modernized military, and because some external forces have been constantly enhancing their military deployment and stirring up trouble near China.

This includes the US military's provocative aircraft and vessel movements as well as large scale military drills on China's doorstep, its rallying of allies and partners to surround China militarily and its selling of weapons to the island of Taiwan in support of secessionist forces in Taiwan, observers said.

Some Western media reports related the defense budget increase to the Ukraine crisis, but this is nonsense, another military expert told the Global Times under the condition of anonymity.

There are worries about the conflict, as Germany recently hiked its defense spending, but the conflict between Russia and Ukraine only started a few days ago, while China's defense budget was likely drafted months before, the expert said.

China's defense expenditure is also used to deliver public security goods, including UN peacekeeping participation, vessel escorting, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, which have made robust contributions to world peace and regional stability, analysts said.